Walden scores ‘Juntos’money for local youth

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., has secured funding to provide academic support for minority students in Hood River and Beaverton schools.

The $125,000 federal investment is intended to boost scholastic achievement, increase parental involvement in the educational process, and reduce drug and alcohol use among youth. The money will help fund the Juntos Project, a collaboration between the school districts and the non-profit anti-drug coalition Oregon Partnership. Hood River’s Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Prevention Coalition (ATOD) will play the key role on the local front.

Walden sought the financial assistance for the two districts because they each have a high percentage of Hispanic students. He wanted to help these areas bridge any cultural differences that could make it difficult for these teens to excel in the classroom.

“Investments of this kind are critical because they pay huge dividends down the road. Helping kids get a quality education and giving them the tools they need to avoid substance abuse are key components of the formula for a successful life,” he said.

“The Hood River ATOD provides an indispensable service to the people of the Columbia Gorge. Promoting healthy life-styles and teaching young people to avoid the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse are tremendously important efforts, and I’m proud to work with the coalition for the betterment of the community,” Walden said.

Maija Yasui, prevention coordinator for Hood River County, said Walden has also been instrumental in obtaining $1.5 million during the past five years to fight drug and alcohol abuse in local communities. She said the Juntos goals that he champions have been largely in place for the last several years at Hood River Valley High School and the payoff can already be seen.

According to Yasui, the local dropout rate among Hispanic students has been lowered from 11 percent in 2000 to less than two percent. Both Pat Evenson-Brady, school superintendent, and Yasui credit these achievements to a strong collaboration between the school and local service agencies. Through combined funding and manpower, the school now offers specialized tutoring and language acquisition skills, after-school assistance for schoolwork, recreation programs, parenting assistance, mentoring, prevention education, and opportunities for community involvement.

“They’ve done an excellent job and real attention has been paid by Principal Steve Fisk to making the high school a place that welcomes and supports Hispanic kids,” Evenson-Brady said.

“It’s a multifaceted outreach and it’s continued to be so successful that are our hope is to get enough dollars so that we can replicate these programs in our two middle schools,” said Yasui, who is the local representative on the Oregon Partnership and will be assisting Beaverton in its replication of the curriculum.

She said because of the united efforts made by Walden and local agencies, Hood River County has scored more Drug Free Communities Grant dollars to fight substance abuse that any other county in the nation. And because of the work done by the Oregon Partnership, Yasui said Oregon is the top recipient of that federal funding.

“We’re not looking at a one-dimensional piece, we’re looking at how to reach kids, how to reach parents, and how to involve other community partnerships,” Yasui said.

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